It’s a tough time in Sydney (and, well, everywhere else) right now: chances are, if you’re not isolating due to having Covid-19 or being a close contact, you’re likely cutting back on how much time you spend in public indoor spaces. It’s a tricky situation to navigate. This month we’re doing the same, finding venues that offer outdoor seating, turning to al fresco cinema experiences and taking advantage of Sydney’s very great outdoors. Stay safe out there.

Al fresco silver screens
Two years of paused film releases due to international lockdowns has resulted in a glut of great stuff to see – right as Sydney experiences a Covid wave. Luckily it’s outdoor-cinema season. Until February 22, the magical water-top screen at Mrs Macquaries Chair’s Westpac Openair Cinema is showing a raft of new releases: Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, new Bond film No Time To Die and Paul Thomas Anderson’s lauded Licorice Pizza. It’s not just about the films, though – chef Mike McEnearney (Kitchen by Mike) has crafted an array of dining experiences, from set menus to Mexican, to enjoy pre-screening.

Over the bridge at North Sydney Oval, The Sunset Cinema is showing new (Encanto, House of Gucci) and old (The Greatest Showman, Dirty Dancing) movies. And in Centennial Park, Moonlight Cinema is back. Catch past hits such as A Star Is Born, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Notting Hill, and new releases including The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Dune and Spencer. In isolation but keen to support your local indie cinema? Dendy, Golden Age, The Ritz and Palace are all still operating their streaming platforms.

Never miss a Sydney moment. Make sure you're subscribed to our newsletter today.


Plus, short-film festival Flickerfest is back from January 21. Head along to the 9pm sessions, which are all hosted outdoors on the festival lawns at Bondi Beach. Shorts from across the globe will be screened during the festival, from Australia to the US, France, Mexico, Iran and more.

Cool down
From January 14 to 16, a 2.7-tonne chunk of ice will be suspended 20 metres above Sydney Harbour from a crane at the foot of the Opera House as part of art installation Thaw. Over the weekend, as the ice melts, three female performers will take it in turns to perch on top and protect the “iceberg” from the elements, in a call to action on climate change. It’s free to watch – and if you’re stuck at home, you can also check it out via livestream.

Dining out of doors
Things just keep getting harder for hospo – but it’s so important to continue supporting the industry so it’s there when things calm down. Showing your old faithfuls love is vital, but it’s also great to test-run a new diner or two as well – and several newbies make outdoor dining easy. French-inspired Loulou in Lavender Bay pulls together a bistro, deli and bakery into one venue. Gather a feast of bread, pre-prepared meals, charcuterie and salads from the bakery and deli, and head to nearby Wendy Whiteley’s garden to enjoy a Gallic feast.

Shell House in the CBD is another venue bringing together a range of options – a bistro, two bars and a beautiful restaurant. At the moment our money’s on the Sky Bar, with its outdoor terrace. It’s perfect for al fresco snacks and a tipple or two.

Bondi’s Fsh Mkt – the sister eatery to Fish Shop – is the ideal dining experience for our times. Head in for fish burgers, oysters, dips, salads and more to take away, then roll out a picnic blanket in the park out front for an almost-DIY dinner.

Drinking out of doors
Luckily for Merivale, al fresco drinking and dining is the mode du jour during Covid. When the group took over The Alexandria Hotel a few years back, no one could’ve have guessed it’d be so difficult to do anything with the pub itself that it’d turn to simply opening the beer garden, popping in some food trucks and a container bar, and installing a big screen. This sprawling outdoor drinking space lends itself well to our current desire to socialise outdoors as much as possible (and the food trucks offering the likes of schnitties and skewers don’t hurt, either).

While new Rocks gin bar Frank Mac’s is a delightful warren of moody rooms for sampling its hundreds-strong selection of spirits, it also offers outdoor seating – on George Street as well as in a courtyard out back – for pandemic-friendly imbibing. Our tip? Use its choose-your-own adventure Martini flowchart to get a cocktail made to your exact specifications.

Just down the road, 101 George St is a pop-up wine bar from the Swillhouse team (Hubert, Shady Pines, Frankie’s). It’s got plenty of seating on the astroturf carpet that’s been rolled out on George Street for al fresco drinking and dining. Snag a seat and sip from the bar’s menu of fun wines and cocktails with fragments of the Sydney Harbour Bridge to be glimpsed in the distance.

More outdoor inspiration
Now’s the perfect time to make the most of Sydney’s natural beauty and attempt all those hikes, picnics and swims you’ve been intending to knock off for years. Get started with our best walks in or near Sydney to help you get your nature fix. The 36-kilometre Northern Beaches Coastal Walk is a beauty this time of year – a walkway links the coastline from Manly to Palm Beach, with plenty of views along the way. For a taster of Sydney’s bushwalking, there’s the 1.8-kilometre (return) America Bay track in Ku-ring-gai National Park, which takes in cascades, Aboriginal rock engravings and views of the Hawkesbury.

If reclining on a picnic rug is more your style, work your way through our top spots for picnicking – they’re all in sprawling parks that make it easy to socially distance. Grab a bottle of vino from Drnks’ new Alexandria bottle shop and find a patch of grass to call your own in Sydney Park. Or swing past Paski Vineria Popolare in Darlinghurst for a bottle to enjoy in Centennial Park.

And if you love a swim but hope to dodge the crowds, check out these 12 swimming spots that are lesser-frequented than, say, Bondi.